Customer: Paul G. Allen's Stratolaunch Systems
Type: very large twin-fuselage aerial launch platform
Program: Very Large Aircraft (proprietary)
Powerplant: 6 x 56,000 lbf (250 kN) Pratt & Whitney PW4056 turbofan jet engines
Significant date: 2011 (project announced)
Stratolaunch Systems, a Paul G. Allen project, is developing an air-launch system that will revolutionize space transportation by providing orbital access to space at lower costs, with greater safety and more flexibility. Delivering payloads in the 10,000lbm class into low earth orbit, the system allows for maximum operational flexibility and payload delivery from several possible operational sites, while minimizing mission constraints such as range availability and weather.
The air-launch system is made up of four primary elements: a carrier aircraft, a multi-stage booster, a mating and integration system, and an orbital payload. Initial efforts will focus on unmanned payloads; however, human flights will follow as safety, reliability, and operability are demonstrated.
Stratolaunch Systems has assembled a team of innovative aerospace leaders to build and deliver a commercial air launch system.
The carrier aircraft
Scaled Composites will build the carrier aircraft; SpaceX will provide the booster and space launch mission design and mission integration services; Dynetics will provide program management and systems engineering and integration, as well as test and operations support to Stratolaunch; Dynetics will also build the mating and integration system hardware. Stratolaunch Systems headquarters are in Huntsville, Alabama, and its aircraft hangar is in Mojave, California.
The carrier aircraft, built by Scaled Composites, weighs more than 1.2 million pounds and has a wingspan of 385 feet – greater than the length of a football field. Using six 747 engines, the carrier aircraft will be the largest aircraft ever constructed. The air-launch system requires a takeoff and landing runway that is, at minimum, 12,000 feet long. The carrier aircraft can fly over 1,300 nautical miles to reach an optimal launch point.
SpaceX’s multi-stage booster is derived from the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. At approximately 120 feet long, the booster is designed to loft the payload into low earth orbit. After release of the booster from the aircraft at approximately 30,000 feet, the first stage engines ignite and the spacecraft begins its journey into space. After the first stage burn and a short coast period, the second stage ignites and the orbital payload proceeds to its planned mission. The booster’s health and status during flight is monitored from the carrier aircraft and on the ground.
Mating and Integration System
Built by Dynetics, the mating and integration system (MIS) provides the single interface between the carrier aircraft and the booster. The MIS includes all systems required for the booster to interface with the carrier aircraft, including mechanical, electrical, thermal, fluids, and gases. The MIS is designed to safely and securely carry a booster weighing up to roughly 500,000 pounds. The MIS will secure the booster to the carrier aircraft, from taxiing to flight maneuvers to release of booster. In the case of a mission abort, the MIS will keep the booster secure during return to base and landing.